San Diego State thriving thanks to coach's tough love

By Ryan LavnerMay 27, 2016, 10:18 pm

EUGENE, Ore. – San Diego State coach Ryan Donovan has been known to take a tough-love approach with his players.

Doesn’t matter what you’ve won, where you’ve been or what you’re ranked – if you play poorly, you’re going to ride the bench.

“That’s kind of my M.O.,” Donovan said Friday. “I don’t like to give my guys handouts.”

Junior Nahum Mendoza III found that out the hard way.

A local kid who was lightly recruited, Mendoza decided to stay close to home for college and walked on to the team without a scholarship. He slacked off his first semester and drew the ire of his coach, who suggested that he either dedicate more time to his game or find another program.

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At the recommendation of former SDSU standout Xander Schauffele, Mendoza began working with swing coach Cameron McCormick, Jordan Spieth's longtime teacher, in December 2014. Individual results were slow to come, but Mendoza noticed improvement in the “scoring zone” inside 130 yards, where he eliminated mistakes and gave himself more birdie opportunities.

“I understand what I have to do to make the ball do what I want it to do,” he said. “I mastered my own swing.”

Though Mendoza had only the fourth-best scoring average last season, Donovan saw enough development that he offered Mendoza some scholarship money for the first time after his sophomore season. But after a lazy summer, Mendoza wasn’t sharp enough to crack the starting five last fall. He counted in only one of the team’s four events.

“He was just very average,” Donovan said. “We stick to our guns a little bit. Our goal is to put the best five guys out every week, and he just wasn’t cutting it.

“He came to me after the third (benching), and he was like, What’s up? I said, ‘You’ve got to earn it. You’re not impressive to me. I don’t think you’re working very hard. You need to prove it to me.’ He finally did, and he hasn’t looked back since.”

Mendoza began the spring season with five consecutive top-10s, including a fourth-place finish at Arizona State’s event, where he needed a par on the last to win but instead made triple.

“He wasn’t even fazed by it,” Donovan said. “He was like, ‘I’m going to be here a lot of times. It was just one bad swing.’ It’s almost like it goes right through him and he doesn’t even realize.”

It’s that blend of confidence and naiveté that has Donovan convinced that Mendoza will land on the PGA Tour eventually. Now that Mendoza has experienced some success, Donovan said, “He’s into it. He’s super motivated.”

Recently named to the U.S. Palmer Cup team, Mendoza entered this week’s NCAA Championship at No. 27 in Golfstat’s individual rankings. He opened with a 3-under 67 Friday to share the early lead.

“I didn’t really see it going this crazy,” Mendoza said of his season, “but Coach Donovan really got me taking it more seriously.”

And this wasn’t the first time this season that Donovan has had to deal one of his players a cold dose of reality.

Gunn Yang, the unlikely U.S. Amateur champion in 2014, returned to school last fall after taking a year off to play pro and amateur events. His game has been so uneven since that Donovan sat him for an event just a few weeks ago.

Yang proved himself worthy of a lineup spot in practice, and he ended up playing a pivotal role in the Aztecs’ appearance here in Eugene.

San Diego State was 11 shots off the fifth-place cut line with nine holes to play at the Albuquerque regional, where it was cold, windy and downright miserable.

“I felt like I was checked out for most of regionals,” Donovan said. “With nine holes to go, we needed a miracle.”

In the difficult conditions, Donovan told his team to simply make pars. The Aztecs shot even par on the back nine to tie Texas A&M for the fifth and final qualifying spot.

Donovan had walked with Yang the entire regional, and he decided to go one more hole in the play-five, count-four team playoff format. With Yang sizing up his 215-yard approach into the par-5 18th, Donovan instructed him to land his 7-iron shot left of the flag.

“The ball landed like a butterfly,” he said. “It went in like a 6-foot putt.”

The albatross helped lift San Diego State to the playoff victory and an NCAA berth. And now the Aztecs have kept rolling, for one day at least – their 3-over 283 was one of the best rounds of the morning wave Friday.

“I light the fire when I think it’s right,” Donovan said. “They know it’s not personal. We treat it like a business. We've got some guys who are a little rough around the edges, but they’re not intimidated by anybody. They’ve certainly shown that.”

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”

Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.

Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)